Well MET – accessing accurate metrological information

18 September 2014

Timely and accurate metrological information is vital in ATM circles – for pilots and ground controllers. Mark Brierley speaks with Dennis Hart, senior expert in aviation meteorology at EUROCONTROL, to find out how the organisation is ensuring everyone has the access they need through the development of a common platform.

Mark Brierley: How important is the accuracy, timeliness and quality of the MET information throughout the ATM system?

Dennis Hart: MET information remains a key enabler for a high number of operational processes in the ATM system, including the notion of 4D trajectory management. From this perspective, access to MET information of the right accuracy, timeliness and quality for the process or application it needs to support is crucial.

The main issue to overcome is the fact that MET information always has a level of uncertainty associated with it that is higher than we usually assume for other data domains. By developing and deploying ATM systems that can handle this uncertainty, we will make the next necessary steps to improve the full integration of MET into ATM decision-making processes.

This is a challenge in an environment where sometimes the norm could be seen as MET being too complex - or too uncertain in that respect - to be handled, especially in a tactical environment.

What's the background of the development of the Weather Information Exchange Model (WXXM); why was it needed, what's it achieved and how successful has it been since its introduction in 2008?

EUROCONTROL, together with the Federal Aviation Administration, started to work on WXXM in 2008 as a continuation of the work started with the Aeronautical Information Exchange Model (AIXM) and followed by the Flight Information Exchange Model (FIXM) in 2011. The objective in developing WXXM was to create an information-rich ATM environment that included MET, and was based on similar exchange standards and specifications. These standards had to be open, transparent and flexible to enable all stakeholders to contribute and give access to the information in a standard and easily accessible way.

The WXXM is the first basic evolutionary step in the transition towards the envisaged System-wide Information Management (SWIM) environment. The WXXM is used as the development platform, and the enabler for the exchange of new MET information currently not prescribed by ICAO and exchanged on national or bilateral understandings.

A distinct part of WXXM capturing traditional ICAO messages such as METAR, TAF and SIGMET was isolated for ICAO and captured in the IWXXM (ICAO WXXM), which became a recommended practice, for states (ICAO Annex 3) that were able, for the exchange of METAR, TAF and SIGMET in November 2013.

What are the next steps for further development of the common platform for the exchange of MET information?

By developing data-domain-specific exchange models such as WXXM, AIXM and FIXM, the data-domain-specific global interoperability aspects are covered. These are important elements for SWIM, but the next challenge is to bring the data domains together and to have true semantic interoperability between all these traditional data domains.

The development of a European and a global interoperability framework, including an ATM Information Reference Model (AIRM) that incorporates MET, will enable all stakeholders to develop and operate the appropriate decision-making tools that use all the relevant information. This doesn't preclude that we already could develop and deploy services today. With the inclusion of IWXXM in Annex 3 and the envisaged European Commission Pilot Common Projects (PCP), the WXXM and IWXXM will go to the next level of implementation. From a PCP perspective, these specifications are an integral part of the specifications to be used when deploying MET information services in Europe.

Given the number of stakeholders involved in this process, what challenges have you faced in marshalling everyone's efforts?

The main challenge in developing SWIM and the MET element of it is not necessary in the large number of stakeholders involved but in the appropriate recognition of MET in the first place and SWIM in general. These are key enablers for almost every ATM process in one form or another, but to identify their individual contribution to an operational ATM improvement and to qualify this in terms of a safety, efficiency, capacity or other gain is not straightforward.

"The main challenge is in getting the operational user requirement defined and getting the user environment to understand, accept and work with the intrinsic uncertainty related to MET information."

This paradigm shift, however, is now in full progress, and the identification and set-up of a MET activity in SESAR is a good example of this progress. This MET work package in SESAR defines and validates new MET capabilities for aviation for identified operational focus areas that reach from time-based separation in a tactical environment to pre-flight planning.

How far away do you think the stated aim of being able to provide MET information to end users on the flight deck is?

In terms of 'bringing weather to the cockpit', the basic elements to describe the information exchange with the help of WXXM, IWXXM and AIRM are in place. Also, a number of technical options for the physical data link are available.

The next element is to clearly define what the operational MET information requirement from a flight-deck perspective is.

We must qualify and quantify this MET information integration need further in order to define the underpinning MET provider capability, the information services required and the physical communication link to be used.

For every identified and justified use case, we then can start to assign capabilities, exchanges and physical data links that, for some cases, could become operational in the next several years and for others will take another decade.

The latter would probably be the situation for applications that support real-time decision-making, whereas applications that use MET for situational awareness could be deployed sooner.

What challenges still remain before this goal is reached?

The main challenge for the moment is not necessarily the lack of MET information exchange specification or the lack of sufficient MET provider capabilities; rather, the challenge is in getting the operational user requirement defined and getting the user environment to understand, accept and work with the intrinsic uncertainty related to MET information.

The traditional response in the air transport business was either discarding MET completely, or it was reflected in a desire to be informed on everything at all times when it comes to weather, and individual stakeholders started to turn themselves into meteorologist.

Now, we work on striking a balance between the MET information that is required to be visualised to function from a common operating picture and the MET information that is integrated in an overall assessment of its impact on a stakeholder, a group of stakeholders or the network.

This will drive the user requirement, which in turn will be reflected in the MET capability that will be required, and the exchange-format specification and associated communication link.

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